How it feels to live abroad during a pandemic

December 2019: Holy smokes it felt good to touch down in Vancouver. Andy and I had been travelling for over 8 months, and ever since South America, it wasn’t exactly the smoothest ride. It was such a relief to arrive in a country where we could speak English, we had an actual apartment to sleep in and we had plans to stay for longer than three nights. Arriving the week before Christmas was ideal for enjoying the festive season, familiarizing ourselves with the city and making some friends before committing to rejoining the work force. We had news that my mum was coming to stay as soon as February, and plans in the works for other friends and family to visit us later in the year. Things were looking goooooood, baby.

In early March, news of the virus evolved from being more than a stray comment in my news feed to making regular headlines, and I started to feel a trickle of concern. We didn’t want to leave, but we did briefly entertain the thought of going home. We had friends scrambling for flights back to NZ and there was that ridiculously ambiguous announcement in March 2020 that New Zealanders ‘travelling overseas’ should return home. To this day I am still not sure whether this was supposed to apply to us,  at the beginning of our two year work visas, or not.

We decided to stay.  We had savings, an apartment, jobs and some quality friends. Our earlier than expected arrival to Canada had allowed us enough time to establish  sufficient roots that would hopefully enable us to see out this pandemic. We had no idea how long it was going to last, but we had almost two whole years for it to resolve itself. Besides, leaving would have been such a nightmare: terminating our lease, getting rid of our stuff and actually getting ourselves two seats on extremely limited flights.

The year actually panned out more than okay. Like many others, we endured a hard lock-down for a bit and then were able to enjoy the easing of restrictions through summer months. We cemented relationships with our friends, we got to experience what Vancouver has to offer and also take some pretty epic trips in and around British Columbia. Summer reinforced that our decision to stay was  a good one; despite everything, it was actually one of the best summers of my life. The great thing about living abroad in a pandemic is that we still got to do so many new things, none of which we could have done if we had gone home. We even ticked off the Rockies – a bucket list trip for sure!

It has been pretty surreal living so close to the USA (literally about a 60 min drive) during what has been for them, a particularly tumultuous year.  Fortunately all their Covid-19 particles didn’t float their way up to Vancouver, just the smoke from their bush fires. British Columbia managed to have low case numbers for the majority of the year. NZ was an interesting comparison for us, as the populations of BC and NZ are approximately the same. Compared to Toronto and Montreal, we got off so lightly. At the time I put it down to good management and the outdoorsy lifestyle that most British Columbians seem to lead, but now I think that our province also got really, really lucky.

Winter brought with it increased case numbers and now the province barely has a hold on this wretched virus.  We have been in a ‘social lock-down’ since November, preventing us from socializing indoors with anyone we don’t live with. ‘Tis a shame that Vancouver is virtually a rain forest at this time of year! Fortunately most of our friends ski, so we have managed to keep up some kind of contact this way. Four months on from this social lock-down beginning, the case numbers are barely changing. (For reference, our case numbers were upwards of 600 a day in November, and now in March they average 450 or so.) Without getting into my opinions around the selfishness of non-compliance, let’s just say that British Columbia is realllllllllly holding out for (or really just ‘resigned to’) this vaccine. Holy hecka, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and this day can not come soon enough!

Homesickness has never been so real. Suddenly we are no longer ‘just one flight away’. I have come to accept we will get no more visitors (thankfully my mum did come so early on!). Seeing our friends and family at home, in groups, at festivals, in perpetual sunshine, definitely hurts. Each day brings us close to our summer though and I have so much planned already: hikes, picnics and camping trips – she’s gonna be a hectic one, that’s for sure. I love Canada so much. I often think about what could have been, if every day could have been full of dinner parties and concerts and sports games and North American travel, all things that we will barely get to experience here, and all done with friends too. However, I regularly think how lucky I am and how fortunate we are to live here. We have still had the experience of a lifetime, it just could have been even better.

The thought of moving home is a constant source of anxiety. I can’t believe that almost two years on, international travel is probably still going to be massively impeded. I have been keeping tabs on what’s what and it sounds like flights are expensive, unpredictable and inherently stressful. Booking a spot in managed isolation to align with a flight sounds like an absolute gong-show. Thankfully, Jacinda has made it pretty clear that borders will always remain open to us, despite strong opposing opinions (and yes, those people make me mad). I stand by our decision to stay overseas. Moving back to New Zealand would have resulted in our unemployment and nowhere to live (hi mum, hi dad) increasing the burden on both our families and the government.

For now, we will just keep on keeping on. We get to continue skiing at Whistler (sharing the world class ski resort with zero international tourists is actually pretty dreamy!) and exploring the city we have come to know so well. With spring comes daffodils, and the promise of warmer temperatures and summer adventures. I have never been so aware of how days merge into weeks and then into months, where nothing feels like it has changed. Except time is positively flying, and although I can’t wait for what New Zealand brings with it, I am definitely not ready for my time in Canada to end!

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